Nursing Times: sexual relationship poll

It's misleading statistics time again today. A Nursing Times poll reports that:

Up to 16% [of nurses] said they knew of a colleague who had started a sexual relationship with a patient during the time that person was in their care

This was reported in one of the free London papers as "one in six nurses...". Somehow that makes it sound even worse (never mind the fact that one in six is actually nearer 17%).

But however you present it, the figure is actually pretty low. After all, the poll isn't saying that one in six nurses has started a sexual relationship with a patient, but that one in six nurses knows of a colleague who has. And how many colleagues does a nurse have – 10? 20? 50? Over the course of a career, that figure must easily run into hundreds (after all, the poll doesn't specify 'current colleague'). The chances are that if it was at all common for nurses to start sexual relationships with patients, almost every nurse would know at least one colleague who had done so.

Or looking at it another way, the vast majority of nurses have never known a single colleague who started a sexual relationship with a patient. Conclusion: either it is very uncommon for nurses to have sex with their patients, or they just do it on the sly...

Google search: the naked truth

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing a blog is discovering the strange Google searches that direct visitors to your posts.

In the past few weeks I have written one post about the terms 'fire truck' and 'fire engine' and another about a possibly inappropriate Children's Society campaign featuring a naked Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

Imagine my amusement when I discovered that visitors are now finding the blog via the Google search 'naked on a fire truck'. I do hope they're not disappointed.

And I was going to take a screengrab of this particular search to see exactly where The Engine Room comes – but seeing as I am at work it might take some explaining to the IT department should they be paying attention...

Avoid consuming odorous cuisine at Barclays

An Engine Room regular (and Barclays Bank employee) has e-mailed us with the following:

I was amused by a weekly work email that asks us to "be mindful of your fellow colleagues and avoid consuming odorous cuisine at your desks". What's wrong with 'avoid eating smelly food'?

I also enjoyed the last line of the email: "Please show consideration to colleagues with disabilities and use the general toilet facilities whenever they are available." I'm getting fed up with using the toilet constantly and I'm not sure it's helping my disabled colleagues much anyway!

Visitor Oyster card 'never runs out'

Most people who have spent any time in London in the past few years will be aware of Oyster cards, small plastic cards which can be loaded with money and used to pay for travel on the capital's public transport system.

Yesterday's free London paper Metro carried a story about Visitor Oyster cards – much like regular Oysters but available at coach ticket offices throughout the UK, "which allows coach travellers to buy their Oyster card before they even arrive in the capital".

The story continues:

The Visitor Oyster card comes pre-loaded with pay as you go and is ready for passengers to use as soon as they arrive in central London.

The pay as you go money on the card never runs out so people can use any money left over for future visits to London or pass it to friends and family visiting the capital.

The money never runs out? Brilliant – free transport for ever. Sadly, judging by the rest of par I think the reporter means 'expires' rather than 'runs out'...

And don't get me started on the term 'pay as you go'. You don't pay as you go – you pay in advance. I much prefer the term 'prepay'.

BrazilName: I am Tildo

Today we've all been mightily amused by the BrazilName website. Type in your real name and the site will tell you what your name would be if you played for Brazil (at soccer, my transatlantic friends). It even displays it on a Brazil shirt.

Even more amusing, you can type in different versions of your real name (with and without middle names, for example) to get a range of Brazil names. One particular work nickname, which I won't mention here, gave me the nearly-rude Brazil name 'Tildo'.

You may ask what this has to do with publishing and the media. File it under 'things that amuse journalists when they are supposed to be hitting their deadlines'...

Word of the day: churnalism

I came across the word 'churnalism' in this month's issue of the National Union of Journalists' magazine the Journalist. It was coined by union member Nick Davies, and it signifies 'the practice of regurgitating material, rapidly and under pressure, from outside sources without checking'. Davies says:

"Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have generally become more passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material.

"Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda."

Putting aside the irony of me copying this almost verbatim from another source, I can completely relate to Davies' comments. On the magazine that I work for, we are relatively well staffed and resourced, but even so time pressures can often tempt individuals to cut corners, rely too heavily on press releases, and turn to sources such as Wikipedia without checking facts.



Spotted a bit of a blooper on the local news site. If you can't see from the picture below, the headline of this news story reads:


Oops. Looks like somebody forgot to supply a headline...

Lofty aspirations

Like most pensioners, much of my time is spent watching property programmes on daytime TV; I just heard a hyperactive presenter describe a bungalow with a dormer window as a bungle-high.

Clever or excruciating, you decide.

And JD, here's one for the glossary: executant – one who performs an action. Clearly if one can execute an order (as distinct from a felon) there has to be an executant; this is one more example of a theoretical word that you never hear.

So next time one of JD's charges has failed to deliver copy on time I'm sure he'll be able to baffle him or her with a sentence including the word executant. There's a challenge for you.

Word of the day: dirigible

Dirigible (noun): An airship.

Dirigible (adjective): Capable of being steered or guided.

Does this mean that an airship capable of being steered or guided is a dirigible dirigible?

Upon posing this question to the office, the web guy sitting opposite me asked whether a desert rodent capable of being guided was a 'dirigerbil'...

A risible dirigible dirigible

Tuesday tautology round-up

A few tautologies and otherwise interesting phrases that have snuck into our magazine engine room recently:

"continues to remain"
Um, just 'continues' will do. Or failing that, 'remains'.

"enquired verbally"
That would be 'asked'...

"closely scrutinise"
As opposed to what, casually scrutinise?

"the tunnel prevents vehicles having to retrace their steps"
Vehicles with feet – brilliant!

Acronyms: WAGs and CHAPs

We've written before about the phenonemon of WAGs – the wives and girlfriends of the English national football team. It's an acronym much loved by the tabloid press over here, and Wikipedia has quite a good entry on the term WAG.

It occurred to me recently, however, that although collectively these wives and girlfriends can be referred to as WAGs, it is somewhat difficult to have one WAG, for one cannot simultaneously be both a wife and girlfriend (of the same football player). One would be a wife OR girlfriend.

Wikipedia also mentions the acronym CHAPs: celebrities' husbands and partners. One CHAP would surely be a CHOP, which is also amusing but much less offensive than calling someone a WOG...

Google: fit truckers

One of our reporters just showed me that if you search for "fit truckers" in Google it asks you whether you mean "fat truckers". Looks like the search engine is finally developing sentience...

Malapropisms: mother cuddled

We've had an email from a 'secret admirer' (well, it is Valentine's day). She says:

I heard a good Smithism (or malapropism) the other day: a friend at work referred to somebody as having been mother cuddled as a child. I think the word he was looking for was mollycoddled!

Very nice.

But I wonder whether there is a connection between 'cuddled' and the 'coddled' of mollycoddled. The Concise OED says on coddle: C16, origin uncertain; in the sense 'treat in an indulgent or overprotective way', is probably a dialect variant of caudle (obsolete), 'administer invalids' gruel'.

On cuddle, all it says is: C16, of unknown origin. So I wouldn't be surprised if they were cognates. Anyone know?

Portmanteaux: safe-tergent, Britishstani

Following JD's reference to portmanteau words, here are a couple I encountered last night.

First, from a TV ad for a soap powder called Woolite (pictured right) is safe-tergent - for which the copywriter responsible should have his/her knuckles rapped.

But rather more interesting was the portmanteau coined during a BBC Radio 4 feature by a Brit whose grandparents came to the UK from Pakistan. Feeling equally alienated from his family's culture and 'mainstream' British culture, he referred to himself as Britishstani.

Not a portmanteau but a neologism that I predict we'll hear more of comes from the illustrious lips of our Prime Minister, who told Radio 4 listeners: "I've always been an Atlanticist". Meaning, I assume, that he takes great stock in the UK's 'special relationship' with our English-speaking cousins across the Pond.

What our non-English-speaking cousins across the Channel and North Sea will think of this westward gaze we can well imagine.

Acronyms: my company is ASS

House style at the publication I work for is to shorten long, multi-word company names to an acronym after first use (if possible). For example, 'Jonathan Smithson International' will be called 'Jonathan Smithson International (JSI)' on first use and after that just 'JSI'. This saves space, is easier to read and reduces the risk of typos.

Today I was subbing a story about a firm called Appropriate Scaffolding Services and was just about to shorten its name to an acronym when I realised that referring to it as 'ASS' throughout the feature possibly wouldn't be appreciated by its directors.... although it might have given readers on both sides of the Atlantic a chuckle.

Can a building be 'based' somewhere?

Free London paper Metro today carries a news story with an interesting boxout on the 'Diamond Light Microscope'. It starts:

This building, based in Oxfordshire is a giant microscope and is as big as five football pitches. It can produce the brightest light in the known universe – 10billion times brighter than the Sun.

No, I'm not going to talk today about the use of commas, or about proper nouns. Instead I want to ask: is it possible for a building to be 'based' somewhere?

People, businesses and organisations can be 'based' somewhere, using that base as a "centre of operations" (OED). But buildings? Surely there are 'located', 'situated', or just 'are'.

Of course Metro could have steered clear of verbs entirely, and simply written "This Oxfordshire building" or "This building in Oxfordshire"...

Word of the day: stagflation

The American Dialect Society recently chose 'subprime' as their word of the year, and on a similar note I think 'stagflation' is a word we'll be hearing more of in the next 12 months.

A portmanteau (blend) of 'stagnation' and 'inflation', as you might imagine it describes a situation when inflation is high but the economy is stagnant. The word has been around since the 1960s, and the phenomenon occurred throughout the world in the 1970s, but I'd never heard of it until recently.

I particularly like it because it makes me think of those giant inflatable reindeer that people put outside their houses at Christmas – see picture.

The Wikipedia page on stagflation is informative, but heavy reading if you're not really well up on macroeconomics.

End of an error – or, goodbye Apus

So it is Apus' last day in the engine room – although not here in our online Engine Room – and we have completed the ceremonial handing over of the OED and the ceremonial eating of the doughnuts.

As Apus said yesterday, he will keep blogging from his island retreat on what I hope will be a regular basis. The blog was originally Apus' idea, which I hijacked, and it wouldn't be the same without him.

However we are gaining two new recruits to the desk, the first of whom has already joined us, and I am hopeful that one or both of them might contribute to the blog as well. One of our designers has even threatened to write something, so watch this space.

I'd also like to say that, in the real world, Apus has been the Chief Sub to my Sub, and due to a staff restructure will be the last Chief Sub our publication is likely to have. That seems fitting. It's always good to go out on a high.

Thanks for everything, comrade.

Look carefully, and you might
spot Apus. Lucky bugger.

Scion of Cerberus

JD just asked me for my view on this sentence, from our micturating correspondent:

Of course Chrysler is now a scion of Cerberus as opposed to a stain on Stuttgart's P&Ls

By dint of some determined research he managed to translate it, but as a fine example of sub-baffling copy I felt it deserved preservation.

And, tomorrow being my last day in the engine room we share, I feel it is only right to embarrass JD by mentioning that I couldn't have asked for a finer colleague with whom to end my days at the coalface. He's invited me to keep blogging, which I hope to do from my seaside hideaway at Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight (look it up on line, overseas chums; it's ever so pretty).

And JD – remember our motto: eschew solecisms!

Headline: Diligent Bankers' present in Budapest

One of the news stories on our intranet has a highly ambiguous headline:

Diligent Bankers' present in Budapest

Before you read on, I invite you to guess the main thrust of the story using only the headline as guidance. If it helps (which it doesn't), the headline was accompanied by a picture of a smiling woman.

Ready? OK, here are my own wrong guesses and then the correct answer:

At first I thought the headline might be referring to a gift given to or by a group of bankers. But why are they diligent? And why do they deserve a capped-up 'B'? Perhaps there is an organisation called 'Diligent Bankers'...

My second interpretation was that the same group of bankers (or organisation) is simply present in Budapest, for some unknown reason. And of course, that would fail to explain the apostrophe.

Only upon reading the story did I learn that the headline referred to a presentation given in Budapest by employees of a banking publication – the title of which could, at a push, be shortened to Bankers'. Why were these non-bankers diligent? Because their presentation was on due diligence, of course.

Anyone guess that?!

I think I need to micturate

Like all engine room stokers JD and I like our English plain and simple. But sometimes you have to admire writers who play with the language, even in ever-so-'umble trade magazines.

Our wittiest contributor recently came up with:

a case of micturation ‘twixt scapulae masquerading as precipitation

I recognised scapulae as shoulder blades and knew precipitation is a grown-up word for rain. But I confess to looking up micturation, which is when I realised he was telling our readers: "don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining".

Sadly it had to go because we can hardly expect our long-suffering readers to refer to their dictionaries simply to understand what they're reading, but it did make me smile.

Only a similar note, it occurs to me that an erroneous vertically delineated canine-arboreal interface might be an impressive replacement for a dog barking up the wrong tree.

Would anyone out there care to come up with more silly versions of common phrases?

H bombs are out of date

In the London freesheet which JD and I read a minor war has broken out in the letters page under the rather witty heading 'Dropping an H bomb on the word warriors'.

Furious pedants have been using unparliamentary language on each other over what they see as a life-or-death struggle over the form of indefinite article to be used before words beginning with an 'h'. One correspondent asserts that "an hotel is correct because the word is French and you are not supposed to pronouce the h but rather say an 'otel".

Turning to the very first page of Fowler's I immediately found that 'an' which I have always called the indefinite article, is known to grammarians as a central determiner. Which would be a great fact to use at a cocktail party, were I ever to be invited to one.

But on the use of a/an before h-words in which the first syllable is unstressed Fowler, having admitted that opinion is divided, says:

The thoroughly modern thing to do is to use 'a' (never 'an') with an aspirated 'h' (eg, a historical) but not to demur if others use 'an' with minimal or nil aspiration given to the following 'h' (eg, an historic).

However, it seems that the use of "an hotel" is now old-fashioned. The bottom line, according to Fowler's, is "the choice of form remains open".

So much for pedantry.

An 'istoric 'otel

Phobias: fear of long words

We've had an email from one of our regulars saying that she recently came across the word 'hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia', rather ironically the fear of long words.

This seemed like a spoof or a joke to me so I looked into it and the best information I found was on Wikipedia:

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia — fear of long words. Hippopoto- "big" due to its allusion to the Greek-derived word hippopotamus (though this is derived as hippo- "horse" compounded with potam-os "river", so originally meaning "river horse"; according to the Oxford English, "hippopotamine" has been construed as large since 1847, so this coinage is reasonable); -monstr- is from Latin words meaning "monstrous", -o- is a noun-compounding vowel; -sesquipedali- comes from "sesquipedalian" meaning a long word (literally "a foot and a half long" in Latin), -o- is a noun-compounding vowel, and -phobia means "fear". Note: This was mentioned on the first episode of Brainiac Series Five as one of Tickle's Teasers.

Elsewhere, however, the consensus seems to be that the relatively brief 'sesquipedaliophobia' would be sufficient to convey the meaning.

Yet another suggestion I came across for a word meaning 'fear of long words', and my personal favourite, is 'megalogophobia'. Not to be confused with a fear of a certain Philippine language, which of course would be Tagalogophobia...

(We've actually written about phobias on this blog before, most notably hobophobia and pogonophobia.)

Idioms: cut the mustard

A great quote in some recent copy:

"Our economic regeneration team has been sitting down and figuring out how to get this application to cut mustard"

Well, you could always laminate the application form – which would make it sturdier and possibly also mustard-proof. Or else you could print the application directly on to a knife or other cutting tool.

Seriously, all it took was for the idiom to be used slightly unusually ('cut mustard' instead of 'cut the mustard') and on first glance I read it literally rather than idiomatically. That's the danger of idioms – apart from totally confusing non-native speakers, of course.

And if you are interested in the origins of this idiom, the World Wide Words page on 'cut the mustard' is a good place to start – or else check out Yahoo! Answers for some alternative explanations.

Double meanings: baby bits

Seen on our work intranet:

Baby bits for sale

I hope this is referring to toys, clothes, cots and such because otherwise it's just disturbing.

Hey, journo, leave those kids alone

Learn your roots: verbiage

Our delightful and erudite news editor sashayed through the engine room hatch t'other day chortling over a newly arrived press release. Not the first time I've heard her react in this was to a press release, of course, but in this case the cause of her mirth was the heading: "VERBIAGE".

No doubt someone at the PR agency thought verbiage means 'words' from the Latin verbum. Not so. It's from 19th century French and means "excessively lengthy or technical speech".

Oh, the perils of neglecting a classical edukashun.

Channel 4: Embarrassing Illnesses

One of our contributors has e-mailed in the following ad spotted on her work intranet:

Channel 4’s Embarrassing Illnesses are doing a series of shows including a programme focussing on men's health.

They are interested in hearing from men who find discussing issues with their doctors embarassing.

If selected, your condition will be treated by professionals and you will receive top quality surgery and treatment. Your involvement will raise awareness about your condition, helping other sufferers to seek the treatment they need.

Please contact [details withheld]

So... you are a man who has an embarrassing illness. You find discussing this issue – or perhaps all issues – with your doctor also embarrassing. So what do you do? Volunteer to take your illness on national television of course. That's much less embarrassing.

(I also like the way that 'embarrassing' is spelt wrongly in the second par. Everyone makes spelling mistakes, but the show is called 'Embarrassing Illnesses' for goodness' sake...)